In a 10-8 vote last Thursday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee supported Debo Adegbile as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The 47-year-old New York attorney recently received unjust criticism for participating in getting political prisoner of war Mumia Abu-Jamal removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment in 2011 after establishing that confusing jury instructions were given during initial sentencing.
Last month, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no direct role in writing three briefs submitted on Abu-Jamal’s behalf by the NAACP legal team, saying his participation only involved the fairness of the death sentence, not Abu-Jamal’s guilt, and claimed there had been racial discrimination during jury selection.
Adegbile argued that lawyers have a professional responsibility to represent all clients regardless of public scrutiny: “Our commitment in the Constitution is to follow our procedural rules even in those hardest cases, perhaps especially in those hardest cases, so that all of our rights can be vindicated.”
Last week, law enforcement groups; the widow of David Faulkner, the officer who was murdered by Abu-Jamal; and the Philadelphia district attorney opposed the nomination due to Adegbile’s affiliation with Abu-Jamal.
“He doesn’t deserve the disparagement he has received; anyone who knows him knows he is of the utmost integrity,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “Criticism of his nomination has centered on just one case of the hundreds and hundreds he’s been involved in. The principle that all sides deserve competent and effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system.”
Following Thursday’s approval, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released this statement: “The Lawyers’ Committee and its corresponding affiliates across the country have been an ardent supporter of Mr. Adegbile’s nomination and believe his legal expertise, leadership skills and dedication to upholding the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans will be an invaluable asset to the Civil Rights Division.”
Tanya Clay House, the public policy director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, stated: “Debo’s entire career evidences his commitment toward working for the least among us and his passion for serving the public interest. We are delighted that the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to support his nomination and look forward to, and strongly urge for, a swift confirmation vote on the Senate floor for this deserving civil rights leader.”
Analysts suggest that Thursday’s support is an indication that he will also be approved on the Senate floor next month.
Some wonder if Abu-Jamal had been legally lynched, would those who were responsible have been prevented from seeking powerful political positions or would they have been rewarded with them?
Pam Africa of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home attended Thursday’s hearing. She said, “The FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] don’t want him in there because they’re scared he’s going to be fair and look at what they’re saying and what we’re saying and make a decision for Mumia.”
When asked if Adegbile’s new post could possibly lead to Abu-Jamal being pardoned by the president, Africa answered: “I know that we, the people, have got to make that happen! The movement is still alive, and we’re getting stronger. I do have faith in the people in being persistent!”
Plans have been made for Abu-Jamal’s 60th celebration of life this April 24. For more information, visit bringmumiahome.com.